Review: ‘Sanctuary: The Story of Zion’ is masterful musical tribute to Zion National Park

The O.C. Tanner Amphitheater stage plays host to "Sanctuary: The Story of Zion," Springdale, Utah, July 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

OPINION Giddy. Giddy is the first word I can think of to describe the way I felt during and after attending “Sanctuary: The Story of Zion” at Dixie State University’s O.C. Tanner Amphitheater in Springdale.

If you haven’t already heard about the show, “Sanctuary: The Story of Zion” is a multimedia production that uses photographs, video, narration and live music to tell the story of Zion National Park from its earliest inhabitants to its pioneer settlers to the millions of visitors who come to witness Zion’s glory each year.

The towering cliffs of Zion National Park create a stunning backdrop for "Sanctuary: The Story of Zion" at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater, Springdale, Utah, July 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
The towering cliffs of Zion National Park create a stunning backdrop for “Sanctuary: The Story of Zion” at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater, Springdale, Utah, July 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

But really, it is an amusement ride, a Wellsian time machine that transports the audience through Zion National Park’s fascinating history and how it came to take its place in the world.

If, like me, you grew up with Zion as your backyard, the show might help you travel to your own place on that timeline too.

For me it brought back memories of tubing down the Virgin River and catching toads along the riverbank, of cresting Angel’s Landing for the first time and singing around a campfire while the summer breeze made its own music in the trees.

And that is the great beauty of the show. It is simultaneously so big and all-encompassing that I couldn’t help but feel the magnitude of how each intricately woven story, song or photograph combined to create a total production and yet it had the unique ability to reach out to every individual member of the audience and remind us of our own part in Zion’s story.

There are a few key elements that really made the show stand out for me; one, the setting; two, the history lessons; three, the music.

Let me elaborate.

The setting

There could be no other setting to tell the story of one of the nation’s most popular national parks than nestled beneath Zion’s towers and temples in the iconic O.C. Tanner Amphitheater.

The outdoor stage is simple, perfectly integrated into the natural surroundings so as never to detract from the awe-inspiring views.

Like the stage, the seating is simple. Stacked rows with metal seats make up the bulk of the amphitheater with some cement seating near the front. The rows have plenty of leg room and are comfortable enough to enjoy the show without feeling cramped.

Tickets are general admission, first come, first serve. Guests who choose to sit on the front rows should bring a pillow or stadium seat.

We (my mother,one son and I) arrived shortly before sunset, chose seats near the middle and watched the light linger on the top of the cliffs before giving way to the night and an explosion of stars. If we had sat there only to witness this natural spectacle it would have been worth it.

But the darkness also enabled the show’s videos and photos to be projected onto the stage’s sliding screens, delighting the audience with the sights of Zion National Park as the show played out right before our eyes.

The O.C. Tanner is an outdoor amphitheater and, as to be expected in summer, it is hot. Cold water and drinks (as well as food items) are available at concessions to help keep visitors hydrated and feeling cool.

I never found the heat to be too oppressive, mostly because I was too distracted by the masterful production going on in front of me.

Throughout the years, the O.C. Tanner has hosted a myriad of quality entertainment acts including the Utah Symphony, country singer Eric Dodge, Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and many others. “Santuary: The Story of Zion” will surely take its place among the great acts to have graced the stage.

The history lessons

The production tells the history of Zion from its days as Mukuntuweap National Monument to its easier to spell designation as Zion National Park. But it also tells of the park’s place in world history.

When the 1904 World’s Fair opened and the world’s most modern marvels were on display Zion was there.

When the American people got a hankering for adventure Zion was there.

When the country plummeted into depression and young men needed work Zion was there.

And all of the history is told in well-crafted narration by singer-songwriter Sam Payne and The Acting Company director Suzanne Christensen who deftly and often with great humor envelope the audience in the stories of Zion’s past. Old photos and a cast of characters who were and are an integral part of the park show up in videos and slideshows throughout the production.

Like all good history lessons, what “Sanctuary: The Story of Zion” does well is allow Zion National Park’s history to teach the audience how important its future is as a place of sanctuary for generations to come.

The music

The most spectacular aspect of the show, for me, was the music. With Payne at the helm, a group of musicians consisting of Nic Chamberlain, Ryan Tilby, Drew Williams and Lacey Williams create a soundtrack for the show that will echo from Zion’s walls for years to come.

Payne is absolutely amazing as the writer on the project and in his role on stage. Part musician, part storyteller and part foley artist, Payne leads the musicians in a brilliant dance of song and instrument.

Each of the players showcased world class musical talent, maneuvering with ease between instruments and musical styles which ranged from old-timey classics to country, blue grass, blues and even a little rock.

The show was slightly reminiscent of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in the way the musical styles seemed to match the periods in history being told.

The intelligent lyrics of each song seemed to pick up where the narration left off so that the story felt seamless, witty and downright entertaining.

I was toe-tapping and clapping throughout.

The production does run a little long. I didn’t mind the length but it did make for a late night drive home.

The show is suitable for all ages but children under eight might find the length too long and get bored. I took my 7- almost 8-year-old who really enjoyed the show but did complain of thirst from the heat and of being tired toward the end.

“Sanctuary: The Story of Zion” will return to the O.C. Tanner stage for engagements on Aug. 19 and 20 as well as Sept. 3 and 5. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for children and $38 for a family. Tickets can be purchased Online or at the door on the day of the event.

I said it made me feel giddy but to be more descriptive; “Sanctuary: The Story of Zion” made me feel as if I were on an all synapses firing, endorphin releasing, time machine that left me grinning ear to ear and wanting to come back for more.

Event details

  • What: “Sanctuary: The Story of Zion”
  • When: Aug. 19 and 20, Sept. 3 and 5, 8:30 p.m.
  • Where: O.C. Tanner Amphitheater, 350 W. Lion Blvd., Springdale
  • Cost: Adults, $15; kids, $8; family pack, $38
  • Purchase tickets: Online | At the event
  • Resources: “Sanctuary: The Story of Zion”

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.


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